Thursday, March 02, 2006

Classrooms as Studios -- Personal Doing Environments

Great thoughts from Remote Access (bouncing off an excellent post from David Warlick) on the idea of classrooms as studios:
"It is an intense, team-oriented, creative space where people are driven to create high-quality products. Studios are focused areas, and unfortunately in the case of the classroom, they may be too much so. In our splintered systems where kids need to 'cover' hundreds of outcomes in a single school year, the studio may provide too much depth and not enough breadth to make legislators happy. Make no mistake about it, kids can focus and be creative for long periods of time if they are working on issues they are concerned with and about."
So here you've got a motivated, innovative teacher who wants to let kids focus on the stuff that matters to them...but is finding it at odds with the goals of the system. I love the studio metaphor, and you could add others as well: lab, workshop or any other place where you learn the things you need to know in order to actually do something of value, to accomplish a goal you care about.

Perhaps this is the real model for the personal learning environment -- an organizing concept for an individual's physical and digital spaces containing the physical and virtual tools they will need to accomplish their goals. In an educational mindset, we might think the learning itself is the important thing, but really we're talking about doing, with learning as something that happens in the process of pursuing meaningful goals. Sometimes learning for its own sake could be the goal, but I suspect that most people aren't motivated in that way. Working on projects, creating new things, solving difficult problems -- these all require learning, but if I could accomplish those things without learning anything, I'd still do them, as long as the projects and problems were worth spending time and energy on.

This wouldn't interest me quite so much if I wasn't immersed in the idea of learning goals. I'm studying explicit learning goals in 43 Things, goals like "I want to learn to surf" and "I want to learn to speak Spanish". But when I think about my own experience, I realize that learning can be painful and disruptive and embarrassing enough to make me not want to try something in the first place. My actual goal is probably more like: "I want to surf" and "I want to speak Spanish". The learning might be what will get me there, but it's not the goal itself.

Thanks to George for the pointer.

Update: Clarence is reflecting more this topic...great stuff.


E said...

I struggle with this in the class that I teach. Everyone wants to find the way to learn "easiest". I'm not sure powerful learning is easy or necessarily should be, easy. If it is easy, you're not trying hard enough, and you can push yourself further.

Learning is messy. If you push yourself, you should be uncomfortable, but it is in the resolution of that discomfort that you truly gain depth of knowledge.

Jeremy said...

Evan! A new blog for you, I see.

I think most students in any class tend to have the goal of "pass this course", which means that their motivations really have little to do with learning. They're looking for the easiest way to jump through the hoops put in front of them.

When you're working on something you really care about (let's say, your garden), the learning will sometimes be uncomfortable (failed experiments when plants die), but you won't be looking for ease along the're just trying to get the garden to grow the way you want it. So you'll find yourself googling seed types and soil-building tips at 2:00am and wondering where the time went. That's real learning.

Lee Kraus said...

I'm not sure how transferable the "studio" metaphor is to various learning environments, but I do think it captures the idea of the learning process, but your personal learning environment will probably be what you make it, a studio for some, a journey for others, a prison camp for yet someone else. (a bit dark on that last one) I also think the "doing" vs "learning" discussion is right on. I want to “learn how to program” vs “I want to develop a web site.” Learning is open-ended and typically implies multiple objectives and is often difficult to measure or at least see clear outcomes. Doing is often the statement of a clear outcome. I am going to do or accomplish X.

I have spent some time reading about scenario-based learning and it seems to have some great structures for setting up learning as “doing”. Here is a problem. Here is a solution. You need to get from problem to solution. The creativity for the teacher is to create the problems that require to students to address the learning outcomes set forth by the pre-established educational outcomes. (or by the legislature.)

Jeremy, I have 2 of 11 current goals on 43things marked as “Learn”. I want to learn ruby and learn AJAX style programming. Interestingly, (to me) all my completed goals are “doing” oriented. I probably need to change “learn ruby” to “Develop a ruby-based web application with an AJAX-style UI”. Then I’d have fewer things to do and time to learn about other things ;)

Lee Kraus said...

Quick update... I did have 1 "learn" goal that I marked as complete... sorry.

Jeremy said...

Thanks for the comments, Lee. I'm not sure I've hit anything important with the relationship between learning and doing in setting goals...but it sure is stuck in my head right now.

E said...

This is kind of the opposite of what I'm studying now - how people learn when they aren't intending to learn. So, to tag off your research, what someone learns about music structure while they are learning to play the guitar... It also plays a lot off reflection, as reflection is frequently the piece that makes an individual "realize" that they have learned, but reflection has a lot of problems associated with it as a source of knowledge...

Anonymous said...


Hope this brings a little "Google Juice" your way, and perhaps a few school-designer types who are curious why a 'tech'-guy is using similar language. Go to to see your name in bright shining lights:

Appreciate your work and curiosity, friend! Cheers, Christian

Jeremy said...

Thanks, Christian. It may be that some ed-tech folks like me are still struggling to find language that makes sense for the way we think people could/should/will be learning -- no surprise that school designers who have been thinking about the future of learning are already using that language.

Over in lifestylism, I shared your interest in seeing what kinds of physical spaces are attracting self-directed workers. Just as workers with control of their schedules, tools and spaces are choosing new methods and locations for their work, I think people focusing on their learning will be looking for non-institutional tools and I see great potential for connections between your research and the design of learning tools.

Jeremy said...

Fascinating, Evan. I'm not sure that it's the opposite. In your example, the doing goal is "playing guitar", and the learning happening along the way to facilitate that goal will be varied, divergent, rich and occasionally frustrating. It might include reading biographies of famous guitarists, music theory, listening to and learning entire catalogs of songs from various artists...along with the usual learning of the chords/scales/techniques that are required to make pleasant noises with the instrument.

I wonder if reflection is another valuable concept that's been co-opted by education and turned into something with less meaning. As an educational activity, reflection has always seemed a bit empty to me. If I'm really doing something I care about -- working on a project, creating or designing something, or even connecting ideas -- reflection isn't separated from the process as a step or add-on. The reflection feels more integrated into the problem-solving, refining, redesigning and seeing how the results work in the real world.